JOHANNESBURG - The Soweto Derby against arch-rivals Kaizer Chiefs will be an emotionally taxing exercise for Orlando Pirates’ assistant coach Rhulani Mokwena, yet he is calm about it and will be calm during the 90 minutes of action at the FNB Stadium on Saturday.
Pirates’ blood runs through Mokwena’s veins. He is, after all, he son of Julius “KK” Sono and thus the nephew of Jomo Sono and grandson of Eric “Scara” Sono - all legendary figures at the Buccaneers. Being a part of that family allowed him special privileges at the club and good seats at the old Orlando Stadium.
This Saturday’s game will also see him come up against his mentor, coach Steve Komphela who promoted him from Under-19 coach to assistant coach in the senior team at Platinum Stars.
Komphela is one of Mokwena’s sounding boards, one of those who convinced him to take the gig of assistant coach at Pirates even though he had an offer for a head coach position at another club in the elite league. But all of that emotional attachment will not distract him from the job at hand.
It’s a skill he needs to share with his players who tend to be overwhelmed by the occasion, resulting in an emotional match that doesn’t produce winners with more emphasis put on not losing than winning.
“When you talk about trying to provide players with emotional stability, we also have to be emotionally stable as coaches,” Mokwena said. “One of the important things is to try and cut communication lines because if you continuously speak to people you are close to, who you are going to come up against, you can infect each other with a bit more attachment. That’s not what you want at this point in time.”
Mokwena will not speak to Komphela until after the match, revealing that he blocked his number on his phone. But it’s clear the two were speaking weeks before this match about it as they sing from the same hymn book on it defining where South African football is going and ought to go.
Maela: “I won’t be calling Tshepo Masilela either. We are brothers and I’m sure at some point there’ll be a call to wish each other luck but beyond that, it’s all about our teams. After the game we are family again, but before then.” pic.twitter.com/MSfNZqh1NH
This clash has more meaning than a lot of the previous derbies as both Chiefs and Pirates are in the Absa Premiership title race. The Buccaneers are four points behind leaders Mamelodi Sundowns while Amakhosi are five points adrift of the Brazilians. The winners will not only get bragging rights but will also give their league challenge a lifeline.
However, Mokwena doesn’t believe that the Buccaneers are genuine title contenders. In what is a three-horse race at the moment, he argues Pirates are the small horse competing against stallions who have been refined over a longer period. Mokwena and company just want to wash away last season’s disastrous campaign.
“This has been a very strange season,” Mokwena said. “The reality of the situation at the moment is that we have only amassed and improved by three points from where we were last season (finishing the season with 33 points and now we currently sit on 36 points after 22 matches).
"If you have only improved by 3%, you shouldn’t be sitting in the top three. I think that the log is a misrepresentation of what should be happening with regards to South African football.
"We are better than where we were last season, of course, but there is still a lot of work that we need to do to be what we want to be. We don’t want to fall into a sense of security and think that we are title contenders. We are strong, yet the reality of the situation is that you have only improved by 3% in relation to where you were last season.”